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Food borne illness: What you must know

When you hear someone was a victim of food borne illness popularly known as food poisoning, your mind is quick to go to a wicked person that poured some toxic substance in the person’s food or drink. Not exactly. Food borne illness is caused by eating contaminated food. Infectious organisms — including bacteria, viruses and parasites — or their toxins are the most common causes of food poisoning.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), unsafe food is linked to the deaths of an estimated two million people annually – including many children. Food containing harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances is responsible for more than 200 diseases, ranging from diarrhoea to cancers.

Infectious organisms or their toxins can contaminate food at any point of processing or production. Contamination can also occur at home if food is incorrectly handled or cooked.

According to experts, food poisoning symptoms, which can start within hours of eating contaminated food, often include nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. Most often, food poisoning is mild and resolves without treatment. But some people need to go to the hospital.

Meanwhile, cases of food poisoning in Nigeria are also high. According to Alfred Ihenkuronye, a Professor of Food Science and Technology, more than 200,000 persons die of food poison in Nigeria annually.


Food poisoning can affect one person or a group of people who all ate the same food. It is more common after eating out. Experts say when germs get into the food, it is called contamination. This can happen in different ways:

  • Water that is used during growing or shipping can contain animal or human waste.
  • Food may be handled in an unsafe way during preparation in sit outs, restaurants, or homes.

Food poisoning can occur after eating or drinking:

  • Any food prepared by someone who does not wash their hands properly
  • Any food prepared using cooking utensils, cutting boards, and other tools that are not fully cleaned
  • Frozen or refrigerated foods that are not stored at the proper temperature or are not reheated to the right temperature
  • Raw fruits or vegetables that have not been washed well
  • Undercooked meats or eggs
  • Untreated water

Many types of germs and toxins may cause food poisoning, including, Campylobacter enteritis. Cholera, E. coli enteritis, Toxins in spoiled or tainted fish or shellfish, Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella, Shigella.  Infants and elderly people are at the greatest risk for food poisoning.

General guidelines to prevent food poisoning

Bacteria enters the body through either food or water from a contaminated source and cause poisoning which, in the majority of cases, turn out to be fatal. According to UNSCO NigeriaTVE indicative Practices to prevent food poisoning are:

  • Observe the rules of food hygiene at every stage in the handling of food.
  • People known to be carriers of infections should not be allowed to handle food.
  • Keep perishable foods under deep-freezer or refrigeration immediately after already present.
  • Refrigerator should be kept clean, no spoiled food should be kept in it.
  • Cook foods for a sufficient period of time and at temperatures high enough to destroy the bacteria.
  • Do not keep foods exposed especially after cooking.  If food is to be consumed later, it should be promptly cooked and put in refrigerator.
  • If food has been refrigerated for a long time, it should be re-heated before consumption.
  • Keep storage, cooking and service areas clean and free from insects and rodents.



What to eat after food poisoning
Drink lots of liquids
The body losses a lot of fluid during food poisoning by vomiting and diarrhea so replacement of these fluids is certainly required. Try avoiding ingestion of foods or beverages that can worsen your condition. Once your vomiting has resolved, gradually replace fluids by drinking water.


Bananas are a good choice to settle an upset digestive system. The high level of potassium in bananas helps to replace electrolytes that may be lost by severe bouts of diarrhea. Bananas are also rich in pectin, a soluble fiber that helps to absorb liquid in the intestines and thus move stool along smoothly. Bananas also contain a good amount of inulin, another soluble fiber. Insulin is a prebiotic, a substance that promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria in the intestinal system.

Steamed Chicken

Due to its bland nature, steamed chicken is an easily digested source of protein, thus providing a fairly safe way to get some nutrients into your body. Avoid deep-fried or sautéed preparations.

Green Tea

It has Green tea has the ability to kill the bacteria responsible for causing food poisoning. Drinking four or five cups of green tea every day can protect our bodies against harmful bacteria that cause food poisoning like bacillus cereus.

What to avoid eating after food poisoning

Dairy products
Avoid eating dairy products except some products that have low lactose levels (such as yogurt) because diarrhea manages to cause lactose intolerance which may be temporary. If you consume dairy products in large amounts even after weeks of recovery from food poisoning, you may develop some degree if indigestion or bloating type symptoms.

Spicy or fatty foods

Spicy or fatty foods can cause total gas problems. Both of the varieties of food are not well tolerated under diarrheal circumstances so it’s best to keep your distance from them until you are finally recovered from food poisoning symptoms.

Foods with high fiber
Fiber enriched foods add to the burden of already over-loaded digestive system. Fibrous foods includes vegetables and fruits along with their peels, seeds and nuts, legumes, whole grains and citrus fruits. By avoiding fibrous foods you can provide an opportunity for your digestive system to rest and recover. However once the symptoms are assuaged you can add the fibrous foods back to your diet gradually.

Alcohol and Caffeine
Alcohol and caffeine aggravate diarrhea. With active food poisoning, avoid alcoholic beverages, coffee, hot cocoa, tea and chocolate. Best option is to keep yourself hydrated with water.

  Apple and Pear juices
Due to sorbitol, glucose and fructose present in apple and pear juices, they are to be avoided despite the fact that they are clear liquids because in some people consumption of these may worsen the diarrhea.

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